The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everything. The arrival of the coronavirus has had an enormous impact on health and has affected not only people with the virus but also those with other illnesses, including cancer patients. They could be said to be facing a double pandemic, that of the coronavirus and that of their tumoural process, and that is something that has a major psychological effect.
Wednesday 4 February was World Cancer Day and different associations spoke out, demanding on one hand that despite the pandemic, there should be no delays in carrying out diagnostic tests, and also calling for more money to be invested in cancer research in Spain.
One of these groups, the Spanish Association against Cancer (AECC) is calling for there to be a major national agreement to tackle the illness. "Cancer is the same for everybody, but not everybody is equal when it comes to cancer. Work needs to be done to eliminate the inequality and that can only be done if there is an agreement on how to tackle cancer," says the AECC.
They are unmoved by statements that the delays in diagnosis are being caused by the Covid pandemic, saying that "nobody should remain undiagnosed as a result of any type of crisis".
Meanwhile, the Andalusian Society of Medical Oncology (SAOM) said this week that the incidence of new cases of cancer is continuing to grow throughout the region. It points out that in 2020 the pandemic caused delays in diagnosis in between five and seven per cent more cases, compared with 2019. In fact, during the first wave of the virus, up until May last year, there was a 20 per cent increase in delayed diagnosis of new cancer cases in Spain, and this meant that more cases went undetected and by the time people began treatment their illness was at a more advanced stage than it would otherwise have been, said the president of SAOM, Antonio Rueda.
"We are worried by this situation, because these delays in diagnosis can have a major impact on the results and possibilities of treatment, and therefore the survival of the patients," he warned.
Carlota Alexandre: "I was very scared when they postponed my operation twice because of coronavirus"
Life for 48-year-old Carlota Alexandre changed in March last year when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was due to have surgery at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, but the operation at the Vithas Xanit hospital in Benalmádena was postponed on two occasions. This caused Carlota extra anguish on top of the fear that she was already suffering.
"I was really scared that they couldn't do the operation in time. The first time it was put off because the operating theatres were closed as a result of the pandemic. When they opened again and my surgery was scheduled, they cancelled it again because the results of one of the blood tests they did made them think I might have the coronavirus. Luckily, the test wasn't positive so I finally had the operation two weeks later, on 20 April," says Carlota, who was born in Portugal but has lived in Fuengirola for many years.
She has a message of support for others with cancer. "I have a very strong faith and I have patience. You have to remember that Spain has very good oncologists. I have been in the hands of a fantastic team," she says.
Carlota now faces an additional problem: a lack of money. She was laid off because of the pandemic and although she has applied for financial assistance she has been turned down twice. "I'm hoping the Asociación Española contra el Cáncer (AECC) will be able to help me get some sort of help," she says.
Ana González: "I decided not to go for my treatment because I didn't want to die alone with Covid"
Ana González, 66, knows from experience what battling lung cancer is like. She knew all about the fear it causes, but when the coronavirus arrived it sent her into such a panic that she was at the point of giving up the immunotherapy she needs and receives at the Civil Hospital in Malaga.
"I said to myself: with my lung problem I am more at risk if I catch Covid, and as the situation is so bad I'm not going for my treatment. I'd prefer to die of cancer than Covid, because with the virus I would die alone," she says.
She was born in Venezuela because her parents had emigrated there to find work, "but all my family is from Granada. I came here with my children, and now my sister is here as well," she says.
After deciding to abandon her immunotherapy, Ana rang the Fuengirola branch of the Asociación contra el Cáncer and told Paloma Gómez that she wasn't going to go to the hospital. She was referred to one of their psychologists and her panic and anxiety gradually disappeared. Volunteers from the association also drove her for her immunotherapy sessions each day.
"If it hadn't been for that psychological help, and because they took me to the hospital and brought me back, I wouldn't have gone. In the end, I only missed one session. After that, I started going every 21 days for an injection, and that's something I'll have to do for the rest of my life," she says.
Years ago, Ana was diagnosed with a grade 4 carcinoma in both lungs. She had chemotherapy to shrink the tumour, then surgery on one lung and, some time later, on the other.
After the operations she was cancer-free for five years, but then it came back and that is why, three years ago, she began to have immunotherapy